I’m not sure when my journey of self-acceptance was finally affirmed in the images I saw. I do remember that this aha moment came with a flood of relief.
The revolution was being televised, tweeted and retweeted. ‘Would this be this generation’s equivalent of the burning bras?’, I wondered.
Perhaps it was when I walked passed a shop display with Winnie Harlow’s Diesel campaign. She stood in the centre with a look of absolute joy on her face, her vitiligo a bold proclamation of her uniqueness.
She had a look that dared you to tell her she wasn’t beautiful but a knowing expression that suggested she knew she was gorgeous with or without your approval. It was breathtaking.
I got home and forced myself to look at my own hyperpigmentation mark on my leg.
It dawned on me that a mark I had spent three decades of my life obsessing over - a mark that had been lasered, injected, covered with make-up, (but still stubbornly refused to go away), was as much a part of my identity as any other part of my body. Cue the Viola Davis cry and giant tears of self-approval.
Winnie Harlow may not have been the first body positive model, but her story was one that resonated with me the most.
Many before and after her are also breaking down equally impressive barriers. Remember the moment @thickleeyonce snatched the wig right off a critic of hers and trended globally in the process?
Here's how I've changed my life because of lessons learned from her and others.
1. I stopped feeling like I'm not enough
Founded by Tess Holiday @effyourbeautystandards is filled with beautiful reflections that debunk beauty standards and the notion that we continuously need to alter the natural state of our bodies in order to be seen as socially acceptable. Her posts boldly proclaim that we…you…are enough, while offering constant encouragement.
I used to have dreams where I would show up to an exam I hadn’t prepared for. Some schools of thought think this means I have a fear of not feeling worthy or competent.
Fear is the motivator and downfall of many and Megan Jayne Crabbe's posts from @bodiposipanda help me remember that my words matter even when my voice is trembling and especially when I am afraid.
Recently, I asked for a raise and walked away from a few relationships that no longer serve me. As Laura Mvula sings, ‘You can’t live with the world on your shoulders’ and I realise that I don’t have to be everything for everyone, all the time.
Self-care has made me a little selfish and that’s okay.
2. I stopped rushing around in the mornings
@vandeaarde is an Instagram managed by Zoha, a Joburg based photographer. Zoha’s work is not only about celebrating the black female form, it’s also about celebrating the multiplicity of beauty within black femininity.
Her work is audacious and unapologetic.
I asked @vandeaarde how she feels about the fact that her work portrays bold black female beauty in a refreshing way that doesn’t seem like objectification. Her response, ‘I didn’t realise that that is what I was doing but now that I do I will try and keep doing what I feel, making sure it continues not to objectify women’.
There's also a strength in showing beauty in still moments and the strength and power that comes from being present mentally and emotionally. Sometimes we forget to just slow down and stop chasing unimportant things.
So instead of feeling panicked in the morning I take time to centre myself for the day. Make lists, meditate, breathe... It makes the world of difference and makes you remember what’s important and plan better the course of the day.
3. I stopped trying to do everything
“They tried to convince me that my black isn’t beautiful. They don’t know you cannot convince a Queen of what she isn’t, the attempt only reaffirms that what she is cannot be taken, weakened or convinced otherwise. They were so wrong. She was too strong.” . Photo: @michaelisiahphoto ?? . #blackgirlmagic #queening #myblackisbeautiful #wakandaforever ??
@followthelita doesn’t fit the mould of the svelte fitness star, but that’s precisely why I like her posts.
As an advocate for ‘thick fitness’, Lita Lewis is a game changer. She trains her body and mind and reminds us that exercise shouldn't ever be just about losing weight. It’s also about feeling strong and allowing your body to perform at its optimum.
There is a temptation to overdo exercise in order to get results quicker. While discipline is essential, self-care is required with exercise as well. It’s about listening to your body and what it needs. If you need to take time off from working out and sleep early go for it. If you feel strong enough to run 5 km after an intense HIIT session go ahead.
The important thing is that the motivation shouldn't come from chasing an idealised standard. Our approach to fitness and life in general needs to be balanced.
As the age old adage goes ‘anything in excess is poison’ and according to Lita, finding balance in practices like meditation will change us from people who search for answers to people who listen for them.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘It sounds easier said than done! Where do I even start?’. Well start where you are, with what you have and with the absolute conviction that you will succeed no matter what.